With its slogan 'Better City, Better Life', the theme of the Shanghai Expo 2010 was the future of cities. Heatherwick Studio, commissioned by the UK government to design the UK Pavilion, decided to consider the relationship of cities to nature, an area in which the UK has made a unique contribution. For example, the world's first urban public park of modern times was in the UK and, for its size, London is one of the greenest cities in the world.
The world's first botanical institution was established in Kew, London in 1759. For a number of years, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has been running a project called the Millenium Seed Bank, which is aiming to collect and preserve the seeds of 25 per cent of the world's wild plant species. Kew's seed collection gave Heatherwick Studio's design a way of connecting the texture of the building with its content. The pavilion was a cathedral to seeds.
The Seed Cathedral consisted of a box, 15 metres wide and 10 metres high. Its 60,000 silvery, tingling hairs protruded from every surface, lifting it into the air to make a structure six storeys in height. The hairs were rods, identical 7.5 metre lengths of clear acrylic, which extended through the walls of the box into its interior. Inside the pavilion, the geometry of their tips formed a space described by a curvaceous undulating surface. Within this space, cast into the glass-like tips of all the hairs, were 250,000 seeds.
By day, the Seed Cathedral was lit only by the sunlight that was drawn into the cube along the length of each acrylic hair, in the same way lightwaves travel along fibre-optic cable. By night, tiny light sources concealed within the length of every rod illuminated both the seed ends inside the pavilion and the tips of the hairs on the outside. They appeared as thousands of dancing points of light that swayed and tingled in the breeze.
The Shanghai Expo lasted six months, during which more than eight million people - including the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao - went inside the Seed Cathedral, making it the UK's most visited tourist attraction, nearly 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) from the UK. Two weeks before the end of the Expo, a state ceremony was held, at which it was officially announced that the UK Pavilion had won the event's top prize, the gold medal for Pavilion Design. Further awards included the RIBA International Award and RIBA Lubetkin Prize.
Established by Thomas Heatherwick in 1994, Heatherwick Studio is recognised for its work in architecture, urban infrastructure, sculpture, design and strategic thinking. Notable projects include the Olympic Cauldron for the London 2012 Games and the New Bus for London. The studio's current work includes: master plan and developments in east Hong Kong and Shanghai; a university in Singapore; a new distillery in the south of England and a 200-passenger boat for a river estuary in France. Today, a team of over 100 architects, designers and makers, work from a combined studio and workshop in Kings Cross, London.
Thomas Heatherwick is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a Senior Research Fellow at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 2004, he was the youngest practitioner to be appointed a Royal Designer for Industry. He was awarded the Prince Philip Designers Prize in 2006 and the London Design Medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to design in 2010. In 2013, he was elected Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to the design industry. Heatherwick Studio work is included in notable permanent museum collections around the world, including the Pompidou Centre, Paris, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and MoMA, New York. There is another model of the UK Pavilion Shanghai Expo 2010 in the Pompidou Centre, Paris.
Image 'Courtesy Thomas Heatherwick Studio'